Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!

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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.


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Led Back

Isaiah opens with some tough words.  The prophet’s job, after all, is to call Israel back to God.  In verse ten Isaiah calls the Israelites Sodom and Gomorrah.  These two cities were famous for their wild and sinful lifestyle, typified by sexual immorality and idol worship.  No good Israelite would ever go to these places!  So Isaiah opens by telling the people of Israel that they are now just as bad as two of the most evil-filled places ever.  It is definitely a way to get their attention.

Isaiah then goes on to reveal how they clothe who they really are on going through the religious motions.  The people of Israel are still offering sacrifices at the temple and are still reciting their daily prayers.  The people do offer sacrifices but return at once to their sins.  So God rejects their hollow prayers too because their “hands are covered in blood”.  The people’s insides are still full of sin and evil.  Their empty religion is trying to mask this.

Today, are we still living this way?  Do we sometimes act like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we sometimes practice a fake or hollow religion?  Do we sometimes fall into sin?  I am afraid the answer to all of these questions is at times ‘yes’.

Sin is and always has been one of the realities of human life.  We are imperfect therefore we sin.  At times we go to church or a Bible study and our mind is consumed by something from work or from home.  We practice fake religion in these times.  We are there but we are not there.  Isaiah offers us a better option.

Isaiah calls us to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the first fatherless, to plead the case of the widow.  He advises us to be a servant to others.  By doing the things God calls us to do we will be led back to God and to God’s ways.  This day may we seek to be in service to God, through loving the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed.

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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.

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Reading: 1 Kings 17: 8-24

As Elijah enters into a relationship with the widow, he realizes right away that she is struggling.  The famine has been long and surely this has worn on her.  She has been in survival mode for some time.  She is down to her last bit of food and is mentally resigned to death.  Life has totally beaten her down.

There are people like the widow in almost every community in which we reside.  Life has been uphill for so long that they can remember nothing but struggle.  They have come to feel like it is just them against the world and no one seems to care.  An added burden for some is the child or children in their care.  Where they will sleep that night or if they will find food that day are their greatest and often only real concern.  Their whole focus is consumed with things we do not even ponder.

The widow’s desperation and surrender are equally present in her words: “as surely as your God lives”.  She must have emphasized the word ‘your’.  In her mind no god would allow her to struggle as she has.  In her heart and soul any and all gods have been pushed far away, pushed out by the anger at life.

There are people today who think just like the widow.  You can see the exhaustion and fear in their eyes.  When life is nothing but a struggle to find the basics of food and shelter, there is no room for hope.

Elijah chooses to engage the widow.  He chooses to step into her life.  He asks her for the one thing she San provide: a little hospitality.  All people have something they can offer.  Often it is just a few minutes of help – sweeping the front patio or helping organize some clothes.  Sometimes it is just a few moments of conversation.  In doing and sharing, people can find worth in themselves.  In giving of themselves they can begin to find hope.

We can choose to engage the other or we can choose to not even look their way.  We can choose to enter into a relationship with them or we can maybe  choose to toss a little money their way.  Or we can choose to invest of ourselves, to show one in deep struggle that we care and that God cares.  May we follow Elijah’s example – engaging one whom others have ignored or shunned, loving and bringing God’s love to one so in need of hope.

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Don’t Be Afraid

Reading: 1 Kings 17: 8-24

Elijah tells the widow that her flour will not run out and that her oil will not run dry until God brings rain and ends the long famine that had struck the land.  His request for bread must have settled on her as a heavy weight when she first heard his request.  The culture was one that placed hospitality very high.  It was customary that even if your sworn enemy came knocking and asked for lodging for the night, then one would provide a place to stay.

All the widow had left was enough flour and oil to make one last meal for her son and herself.  When she encountered Elijah she was gathering some sticks so she bake the last meal they would ever eat.  The widow must have been at a very somber place in her heart and mind.  It is at this point that Elijah asks for some bread.  She has used up her every resource and is preparing to make one last meal and then to die with her son.  It is now that Elijah comes along and asks if he can have some bread too.

Have you ever been where the woman is at?  Totally spent and at the end of the rope?  She is there.  It is like going through a very hard loss of a dear loved one, finally heading home and feeling emotionally spent after the funeral, and a distant friend calls to tell you the news of their unexpected loss.  It is like spending a hot July day working outside all day long at the Habitat house when a friend of a friend calls asking if you can help them move out of their apartment.  Every fiber in your being wants to say ‘no’ but you feel compelled to talk a while or to go and help.

Elijah must sense the apprehension in the widow.  So her says to her, “Don’t be afraid”.  When the phone rings or the stranger appears at your door, asking when we feel totally depleted, hear His voice, saying “Do not be afraid.  Trust me”.  May we find the faith of the widow.  May we too experience His amazing blessings when we choose to trust and to answer His call.

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Her Offering

It is a challenge to be content, to trust, to be obedient.  The world tells us we need a bigger house, a better body, a higher title.  It tells us we need recognition and to rise above everyone else.  These are the attitude Jesus points out in the teachers of the law.  They do much for show.  Then He goes on to observe the offering box in the temple.  Many with much come along and drop in their offering.  He makes no judgment but only offers that it is easy for the wealthy to give out of their excess.

Then along comes the widow who puts in two small copper coins.  “Such a tiny offering” the teachers of the law, the wealthy, and the disciples observe.  We would have too.  But then Jesus notes this is all she had to live on.  All.  Oh.  What trust in God to do such a thing!  True, but it is more.  It is the joy of giving.  It is sacrificing so another can have some.  It is being obedient.  Just imagine for a moment gathering all you have – all your money – and giving it to the church.  All the money you had.

What would it have taken for this widow to do such a thing?  What would it take for me?  To be honest my faith is a long way from this widow’s.  We may pray to the Spirit to guide us, but we have our limitations.  There are things we hold back.  This poor widow is a tough example to follow.  But one worth striving to be more like.  Make me a  willing giver of all I have to offer Lord.  Help me to abandon self for You.

Scripture reference: Mark 12: 38-44